Defending double world champion Sebastian Vettel claimed his first win of the year to take over as leader of the Formula One title race when he triumphed in the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix.
Without any threatened interference from demonstrators at the heavily-guarded Sakhir circuit, the 24-year-old German regained his last year’s form and controlled the race from start to finish.
He jumped to the top of the drivers’ standings after registering his 22nd career victory with a near-flawless drive from pole position to the chequered flag.
Vettel came home ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, and the Finn’s Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean.
“That was an incredible race, very tough,” said Vettel. “I was lucky to have a good start, and that was crucial, as it let me pull away and open up a gap at the front. But Kimi challenged me — I think he must have found a dealer who had all those new tyres.”
Raikkonen said, “I had one chance to pass him, but I couldn’t quite do it and that was it. But it was a good race for us.”
It was Grosjean’s first podium finish in Formula One and the 25-year-old Frenchman said, “For me, I am very happy to have my first podium and to go like this, one step at a time.
“I said at first I wanted to finish in the points and then in the top five, and now on the podium. Let’s take a break before I say I want to win!”
Australian Mark Webber finished fourth in the second Red Bull, confirming their return to form after a lacklustre start to the year.
German Nico Rosberg, who claimed his maiden victory for the Mercedes team at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, finished fifth ahead of Briton Paul Di Resta of Force India and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Hamilton came home eighth after a troubled race for McLaren, ahead of Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari and, amazingly, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, who started from 22nd on the grid, in the second Mercedes.
Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Jenson Button retired on the final lap after a late puncture, but had been unable to mount a serious challenge in a race of rapidly-changing positions.
Vettel made a fast and smooth getaway from the grid, pulling clear of Hamilton who held second ahead of a fierce scrap for positions behind them.
Protesters attempt to block roads
The start was, however, marred by protesters’ attempts to block roads to Sakhir race track with burning tyres and rubbish before they were cleared.
Security was tight in the island kingdom for the highly-controversial Grand Prix, with police patrolling the capital Manama and the roads leading to the race track.
The paddock, meanwhile, filled early with teams, sponsors, supporters and media anxious to avoid traffic hold-ups or other problems. As the race started, focus shifted to on-the-track events with Vettel sending out a reminder of last year’s events with an unrivalled finish.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2012.
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